MILL CREEK — They were the house band for Black Lives Matter protests in Seattle last summer.
Inspired by the street demonstrations that followed the murder of George Floyd, the Marshall Law Band recorded an album, filmed a documentary and commissioned a graphic novel about their experiences. Their project is titled “12th & Pine” after the Capitol Hill Organized Protest or CHOP area at the downtown Seattle intersection.
“The project is all about our experience in the social movement this summer playing for the people protesting in the streets,” said Marshall Hugh, the band’s frontman.
The band was formed by Hugh and Marty Thordson in 2016. Rapper Hugh is backed by Thordson on saxophone, Evan Robertson on bass, Matt McAlman on drums, Josh Richins on guitar and Zack Olson on keys. Richins and Olson also sing backup.
The band may have gained fame because of their jam sessions on the streets of Seattle, but all of the members are from Snohomish County.
Hugh, 28, of Mill Creek, attended Carnegie Mellon University for two years before realizing he’d rather pursue music. He moved from Pittsburgh to Seattle — Hugh and Thordson shared an apartment on University of Washington’s Greek Row — to launch a solo career.
The future members of Hugh’s band collaborated on his album “Mill Creek.” Hugh liked their instrumental backing so much that he ditched his solo career for the funk-hop band.
The band’s music is a fusion of funk, rock ‘n’ roll, reggae and hip-hop, featuring lyrics about civil rights and social justice over live instrumentation. Their influences include James Brown, Rage Against the Machine, Dave Matthews Band, Bob Dylan and Bob Marley.
“I thought I was going to be playing basketball right about now,” said Hugh, who coaches basketball at Jackson High School, from which he graduated in 2010. “I decided that music would allow me to speak to more people and actually fit my personality type a lot more than the history and public policy that I was studying at the time.”
The protests in Seattle were the perfect stage for Hugh’s social justice-focused music. He had his band stationed a block from the East Precinct where police and demonstrators engaged in an extended standoff. He said the idea was to empower weary protesters and provide a soundtrack for the movement.
“We wanted to be out there with the people and felt that our music best spoke to the message that we hope to bring to the movement,” he said. “We were making up a lot of the songs that you hear on ‘12th & Pine’ right there on the streets.”
As of today, there have been more than 170 straight days of protest at the CHOP, but the Marshall Law Band played five-hour sets for six consecutive evenings before the Capitol Hill Organized Protest at 12th Avenue and E. Pine Street had earned its acronym.
Hugh shared his mic with various speakers, having the band play softly behind them to emphasize their messages. Some of these speakers are featured on the album, including Dan Gregory, FairVonn Mother, P.O. BOXX and Morgan “Mo” Gilkeson of Mo’ Jam.
The band will never forget the final showdown at the East Precinct — what is now referred to as “The Battle for the Hill.” The Marshall Law Band didn’t stop performing, even when police were firing tear gas and rubber bullets.
“We want to see people come together and heal as a community,” Hugh said. “We want to see reconciliation occur in communities that have been targeted and heavily affected by the system in place. At the end of the day, we’re all neighbors. We want to see this celebration of coming together as a people so we can move forward.”
After those six performances at the protests, the band recorded their 12-track debut album at Soundhouse Recording with Jack Endino, who worked on seminal grunge albums by Mudhoney, Soundgarden and Nirvana. They finished their album in 10 days.
“We hope our music makes people think, but also gives people hope that a better tomorrow is attainable,” Hugh said.
Songs on the album include “Reel News,” “BLM,” “13%,” “Don’t Wanna Die” and “Mercy.” “Reel News” is about national coverage of the Seattle protests by Fox News and CNN. Hugh said their reports were “click bait” that sensationalized the Marshall Law Band’s performances at the CHOP.
In addition to featuring speakers from the protests, the band amplified the message of the movement by featuring vocals by Black artists on the album — Jmoe Da Bird, Chris King, Nobi, I Am Chamel and The Love Spreaders.
The sextet also recently released a music video for their single “Louder (Black and Proud),” also on the album, which has been played more than 50,000 times on YouTube.
“We did a ’70s theme to let people know that these are the same problems that people had to face back (then) that my uncles were rapping about and singing about,” Hugh said. “We dressed like that to bring the reality that these were problems back then and that they’re even more relevant now.”
The album was released on Oct. 23. Since then, the Marshall Law Band has been performing around Seattle on a parade float to promote the “12th & Pine” project and bring live music back to the neighborhoods they visit.
“They were just over the moon about us playing everywhere,” said Thordson, who has been playing the tenor sax since fifth grade. “We even pulled up at the Space Needle a couple of times. We’ve passed multiple police officers, and they’ve done nothing but smile and wave. It’s been pretty incredible.”
The refurbished float — which the band nicknamed the USS Jellybean — is decorated with song lyrics and Black Lives Matter messages.
Hugh said the band is looking to parade their float around Snohomish County next. They’ll likely stop in Mill Creek, Arlington, Mountlake Terrace and Snohomish, because that’s where the band members are from. Do you want the Marshall Law Band to perform in your neighborhood? Email email@example.com.
The band was scheduled to go on a U.S. tour, including a performance at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, but then COVID-19 hit. Without a tour, they found time to focus on the protests after George Floyd’s death.
“Honestly, getting involved in the social movement and dropping ‘12th & Pine’ … it turned out to be a blessing in disguise,” Hugh said. “But we definitely had to be knocked down to stand up stronger.”
Check out the “12th & Pine” 10-minute documentary by Tyler Nelson and the graphic novel illustrated by Pierre Roset at www.marshalllawband.love.
Sara Bruestle: 425-339-3046; firstname.lastname@example.org; @sarabruestle.